Bench warmers now rugby’s hottest property
Two weeks ago, Wyatt Crockett performed what front rowers at the top level regard as a modern miracle — he played 76 minutes at loosehead prop for the Crusaders against the Brumbies.
Crockett, a 35-year-old veteran of 71 tests ran on to the GIO Stadium pitch to replace the injured Tim Perry after four minutes and kept going until the final whistle — a stint which included a torrid series of scrums on the Crusaders’ line in the second half when they had two men in the sinbin.
Despite the numerical disadvantage and pressure being applied by the home side, Scott Robertson’s men didn’t concede a point in the second half.
What made Crockett’s shift all the more impressive was that he was coming back after four weeks out with injury — a concussion suffered against the Lions — and that he has retired from internationals and will call it quits at the Crusaders once this season finishes.
He is nearing the end of his career but playing as though he is just starting it. But Crockett, who has played 197 times for the Crusaders after making his debut in 2006 (196 in Super Rugby, one against British & Irish Lions), has no regrets about his decision to scale back his involvement in the game to playing for the Tasman Makos and watching his two boys play the game at the family’s new home in Nelson.
Crockett says he would play for the All Blacks against France next month if Steve Hansen was desperate, but, with Joe Moody returning he doesn’t think he will be needed, adding there
were plenty of young looseheads coming through who deserved their chance.
“We’ll cross that bridge if we come to it but I think we’re pretty well served,” Crockett said ahead today’s game against Waratahs.
He also says while his playing nearly the full 80 minutes in the 21-8 win over the Brumbies showed what was possible, he wouldn’t recommend it, and in fact believes impact players will be become even more important to the game in the future.
“These days, as long as you’ve got a strong group of props, it’s ideal to make those changes around that 50 to 60 minute mark because if you’ve got strength in the depth of your squad, I believe those guys coming on with fresh legs have more to give and can have an impact on the game,” Crockett said.
“That’s what we try to do — the guys on the bench aren’t just there as the number twos, they’re there to come on and make an impact and really finish the game off. I think it will happen more and more. Potentially, New Zealand teams do it better than some of the other teams, I think, in using that bench as a real weapon late in the game.
“It’s probably led by the way the All Blacks have done it and I think Super Rugby teams are starting to get better at it as well.”
When it was suggested that the depth of New Zealand rugby allowed it more than perhaps other Super Rugby or international sides, Crockett replied: “It’s also that mindset and making sure the coaches emphasise that at training and show real belief and value in the bench. “Sometimes it would be easy to leave the starters on for a bit longer, but if they show a bit of faith in that bench, those players get a bit of confidence and you’ll find that they’ll start to really add and contribute towards the end of the game.”
Crockett should know — he has started only 25 of his 71 tests, and, with All Black Joe Moody returning from a hand injury to start for the Crusaders against the Waratahs at AMI Stadium tomorrow, Crockett again finds himself with a No 17 on his back. That rotation strategy has allowed him to play for so long and in so many matches, however. He said his body is “hanging in there”.
“I have been fortunate — I haven’t had too many long-term injuries and if I have they’ve been right at the end of campaigns. I work really hard to keep my body strong and healthy but also the coaches here have managed me well and I haven’t been overloaded.”
No one is more surprised than Crockett that he has been capped at Super Rugby level so many times. The next best is Keven Mealamu and Stephen Moore (both 175). It is a triumph for quiet achievers the world over and in a month or so, when he ticks over to 200, the humble man from Golden Bay will surely be recognised for it.
“It’s pretty bizarre, really,” he said. “It’s just gone past so quickly. I find it really strange that I’m the most capped player in Super Rugby. It’s a nice thing to have and I’m sure one day someone else will take that mantle.
“I still feel like I’m contributing and I’m still hungry to give my best performances for the team. That’s the key. I know the end of my Super Rugby career is coming closer so I suppose that’s helping my motivation.”
I have been fortunate. I work really hard to keep my body strong and healthy. Wyatt Crockett